Colchagua Valley Wine Route in the Chilean Heartland

Rows of grape vines turning golden with a view of mountains rising above the valley in the distance.
Touring wineries in the Colchagua Valley. Photo © Molly Mazilu, licensed Creative Commons Attribution.

Colchagua is the best organized of Chile’s emerging wine routes. Working out of a common office in the town of Santa Cruz, the Ruta del Vino de Colchagua (Plaza de Armas 298, tel. 072/823199, full-day tours US$170 pp for 2 people, US$150 pp for 3–4, US$135 pp for 6–9, US$120 pp for 10 or more; half-day tours US$55–150 pp) comprises 14 different wineries. Several open on a drop-in basis or short notice, others by reservation only. The listings that follow include complementary sights and accommodations outside the city of Santa Cruz.

Some of the most prestigious winemakers have located here; the area is best known for its reds, especially but not exclusively Carmenere. Starting around 10 a.m., full-day Ruta del Vino tours usually visit two or three wineries; in addition to lunch at one of the vineyards, they usually visit Santa Cruz’s Museo de Colchagua as well. Rates vary depending on the number of guests.

Viña Laura Hartwig

Santa Cruz’s most central winery, Laura Hartwig (Camino Barreales s/n, tel. 072/823183 , 9:30 a.m.–1 p.m. and 2–6 p.m. daily Jan.–Feb., closed Sun. Mar.–Dec., tours US$16, wine by the glass US$2) is an easy walk from downtown and several nearby accommodations, but has only recently begun to offer tours and tasting. Misleadingly enough, its handsome colonial-style headquarters only date from 2001, but the use of recycled materials means it looks substantially older.

Hartwig offers a full-scale tour as well as wine by the glass at its cozy tasting room, which serves decent-sized samples of their Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon, Carmenere, and a Merlot/Petit Verdot blend.

Viña Viu Manent

At Cunaco, a short distance east of Santa Cruz on the highway from San Fernando, Viu Manent (Carretera del Vino, Km 37 tel. 072/858751, tours 10:30 a.m., noon, 3 p.m., and 4:30 p.m. daily, US$28 pp) produces almost as great a variety of blends and varietals as Casa Silva, but focuses on reds, including Carmenere, Malbec, and Merlot. Tours include a horse-and-carriage spin through the vineyards, followed by a tasting at its La Llavería wine shop and visitors center.

In addition to the winery, which is recovering from damage in the 2010 earthquake, Viu also operates a Club Ecuestre (cel. tel. 09/9847-1751), which offers riding classes (including polo preparation) and more traditional horseback rides through the vineyards.

Viu Manent is open for tours and tastings. Its restaurant, Rayuela Wine & Grill (tel. 072/858350, noon–4:30 p.m. Tues.–Sun.), makes an ideal lunch break. With both indoor and outdoor seating, it’s part of a restored 19th-century building decorated with artifacts from Cunaco’s rural past.

Viña Montes

A short distance northeast of Viña Viu Manent via a gravel road, Viña Montes (Parcela 15, Millahue de Apalta, tel. 072/817815, tours 10:30 a.m., noon, and 3 p.m. daily, plus 5 p.m. in summer, US$24 pp) is the work of Aurelio Montes, one of Chile’s best known winemakers. Montes drew lots of flack for planting Syrah on south-facing, 45-degree slopes with thin soils, but his “Montes Folly” label has been a resounding success.

In addition to Syrah, Montes produces diverse wines including Merlot, Malbec, Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, and a Late Harvest blend of Gewürztraminer and Semillon. Grapes for the Pinot Noir and the whites come from the Casablanca or Curicó regions, however.

Viña Montes is about 6.6 kilometers northwest of Santa Cruz. It offers 1.5-hour tours and tastings in either Spanish or English. If possible, save the best for the last—the tasting takes place on a deck in the uppermost vineyards, to the accompaniment of spectacular sunsets over the Colchagua Valley.

In addition to its tours and tasting, Montes now offers a botanical hiking trail through its Mediterranean scrublands and hualo (deciduous white oak, Nothofagus glauca) forests on the slopes of Cerro Divisadero. It also operates Café Alfredo, where lunch or tapas can be added to the standard tour (US$55 total).

Bodega Neyen

Several kilometers beyond Viña Montes, at the east end of the Apalta Valley, Bodega Neyen (tel. 09/9047-9746, tours 11:30 a.m. and 3:30 p.m. daily, US$30 and up pp), dating from the 1890s, occupies a recycled adobe, outfitted with contemporary features like glistening stainless steel tanks without compromising its mostly historic ambiance. Like Lapostolle, it produces just a single wine: a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon and Carmenere grown on ancient vines with deep root systems that require no irrigation. That, though, was enough to persuade the Veramonte conglomerate, based in the Casablanca Valley between Santiago and Valparaíso, to acquire Neyen—while maintaining Franco-Chilean enologist Patrick Valete’s operational autonomy.

The result is a premium wine that approaches Lapostolle’s selectivity and quality, not to mention its price. Tours of Neyen require a day’s advance notice.

Viña Lapostolle

Built by the French family responsible for Grand Marnier, Viña Lapostolle (tours 10 a.m., 12:30 p.m., and 3:30 p.m., US$40 and up pp) is a state-of-the-art gravity-fed winery built into an Apalta hillside, only a short distance from Montes. At this facility, it produces only the award-winning Clos Apalta blend of Carmenere, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Petit Verdot. So painstaking is the process that, during the fall harvest, 80 women select the grapes individually—there’s no machine processing here. The tours are the valley’s most expensive, but, at the end of the tour, this means sampling wine that goes for US$100 or more per bottle. The cost of lunch (US$50–120) depends on the wine, which can come from Lapostolle’s other facilities.

The winery’s Relais & Chateaux Lapostolle Residence (Camino Apalta Km 4, tel. 072/953355, US$600 s, US$1,000 d with full board) consists of four casitas (small houses) with wraparound decks and almost total privacy on a promontory above the winery. The common areas, at the winery level, include a restaurant. For hotel guests, the tour and tasting are included.

Viña MontGras

West of Santa Cruz on the Pichilemu Highway, dating from 1992,MontGras (Camino Isla de Yáquil s/n, Palmilla, tel. 072/822845, tours 10:30 a.m., 12:30 p.m., 3 p.m., and 4 p.m. weekdays, 10:30 a.m., 12:30 p.m., and 3 p.m. weekends, US$25 pp) is a modern winery that exports nearly all its production; focusing on reds such as Carmenere, Syrah, and Cabernet Sauvignon, as well as blends, it also produces an outstanding Sauvignon Blanc. It was among the first Chilean vineyards to plant mountaintop wines, a technique that others have since adopted.

Like Viu Manent, Viña MontGras uses horse carts for vineyard tours. Tasting follows in its modern production facilities. There are also other options, including blind tastings (US$33) and making your own wine (US$43).

Residencia Histórica de Marchihue

At the west end of the Colchagua Valley, about midway between Santa Cruz and Pichilemu, Marchihue (Fundo Los Maitenes, Marchihue, tel. 09/9307-4183, US$140/200 s/d) is not a winery but rather an 18th-century Jesuit hacienda, restored and upgraded as a 22-room hotel. In its first year, the Italian-run retreat attracted high profile clientele such as then Chilean President Michelle Bachelet to its cool adobe rooms. Even after subdividing those rooms to create modern baths, the sleeping quarters are huge, with a mix of contemporary and historic styles in their furnishings.

The Residencia Histórica is a quiet getaway that eschews television but does provide WiFi. It also has a pool, and offers excursions such as horseback rides. Its fine restaurant is open to the public by reservation.

Viña Hacienda Araucano

Only a few kilometers west of Viña Santa Cruz, Hacienda Araucano (Ruta I-72 Km 29, Lolol, tel. 072/824386, tours by reservation only, US$24–50 pp with two-person minimum) is a project of the French vintner François Lurton, who also has properties in Argentina’s Mendoza province. With its vineyards set in a north-facing hillside terroir similar to that of its neighbor, the winery itself is modern, with a spacious high-ceilinged guesthouse (US$370 pp) where Lurton himself stays when he’s in Chile.

The tours include a tasting of three reserve or premium wines. The wines themselves are on sale at discount prices here. Meals are also available, again on a reservation basis with a two-person minimum.

Viña Santa Cruz

In a colonial-style building off the main highway, about 25 kilometers southwest of town, Viña Santa Cruz (tel. 02/2219090, Carretera I-72 Km 25, Lolol, tours 10 a.m., noon, 3 p.m., and 4:30 p.m. daily, US$32 pp, for nighttime astronomy tour add US$20 pp) is Cardoen’s modern boutique winery, producing limited quantities of reserve reds such as Cabernet Sauvignon, Carmenere, Syrah, and Malbec, plus a few blends. Tours here are more than just a walk-through and tasting: Cardoen has installed a teleférico (cable gondola) that climbs to a small hilltop events center and a cluster of museums that include prototype indigenous villages from throughout Chile (Aymara from the Norte Grande; Mapuche from the southern heartland; and Rapa Nui from Easter Island).

In addition, evening tours include a professional lecture on the southern hemisphere skies at the Centro Astronómico, followed by a peek at the planets and stars through several telescopes. The Café Terroir serves a light menu of cold cuts, sandwiches, salads, and desserts, accompanied by wine. Whenever the winery is open, its Sala de Ventas offers Cardoen’s wines and huaso (Chilean cowboy) souvenirs.

Viña Santa Cruz offers tours and tasting.

Viña Casa Silva

Santa Cruz may be the hub of Colchagua’s wine route, but Casa Silva (Hijuela Norte, Angostura, San Fernando, tel. 072/913117, tours 10 a.m.–6 p.m. daily, tour with no tasting US$20, tour with three reserve wines US$32, tours with three premium wines US$44) is its gateway—barely off the Panamericana, it makes the otherwise forgettable city of San Fernando an ideal break for north–south sojourners lacking time for a longer detour. Only a small percentage of its grapes come from these vineyards—most grow nearer the coast or closer to the Andes—but some come from vines nearly a century old. The winery itself is a capacious colonial-style building with contemporary technology.

Casa Silva produces most of the usual Chilean reds and whites, including Carmenere, but also less common varietals such as Shiraz (Syrah) and the whites Sauvignon Gris and Viognier. Blends, both red and white, are also on the list.

In addition, it operates the adjacent, seven-room Casa Silva Hotel (tel. 072/913091, US$195 s, US$275–295 s or d); dating from the 1820s, it’s a handsome adobe with traditional furnishings but modernized baths. Its namesake restaurant, a popular dining option, is closed to non-guests Sunday evenings and all day Monday.

Excerpted from the Fourth Edition of Moon Chile.